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Why Do You Read/Watch Science Fiction?

Matthew Jarpe’s latest post about why he writes hard science fiction has me wondering about sf in general…

Why do people read science fiction? For that matter, why do people watch sci-fi film and TV?

For me, it’s the sense of wonder….imagining what could be (science fiction’s “What if?” question), wondering what’s out there and what could be achieved. It stokes my imagination like no other genre.

I like other elements of sf, too. Things like suspense, storytelling, writing style, etc., but these can be found in standard fiction as well as sf. But even here I like the spin that sf puts on it. Take The Resurrected Man by Sean Williams. The science-fictional matter transporter leads to some really interesting thought provoking questions about ethics, legal issues and philosophy. You could get thought-provoking in other genres, but sf makes it cool, too.

What about you?

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

23 Comments on Why Do You Read/Watch Science Fiction?

  1. If you look at history, you cannot help but to wonder at how things change over the centuries. To tell someone from the roman times about the baroque period would be something akin to our SF. We can’t foretell the future, but we can conceive it, imagine it, and help givig birth to it. That is why SF is so important.

    Besides, it’s groovy.

  2. SF has been the no. 1 literature of my youth, filling it with time and space travel, aliens and starships. Then I read non-SF fiction for almost two decades and found last year that it was enough; I returned to SF (and Fantasy) and have been happy ever since. Why? It stimulates my brain, it makes me feel like a boy again – and because it says more about the present than any of the other fiction some people would like to write with a capital f.

  3. .


    i remember when i was 20yr old reading “the firm” by john grisham because my dad said i’d love it. i had been reading science fiction since very early childhood…so i read “the firm” and i recall while i was reading that i kept waiting on the other shoe to drop…waiting for the “real” mystery…..they had already revealed that the mysterious force behind the law firm was “the mob” but i remember i kept thinking that pretty soon some guy with telekenesis is gonna show up or some cabal or supersecret society of witches will take responsibility. i was truly disappointed when the book ended as a run of the mill crime book……

    i read science fiction because i am a dreamer. i am dissatified with the natural and prefer the supernatural. i want the ultimate extension into the unknown…i want exploration instead of expounding…new ideas instead of retreads…different, not same.

    that’s why i read it.

  4. For an escape from reality.

  5. SciFiChick: Ah, but you can get that with any kind of fiction. Why the sf genre specifically? Why not horror or cat mysteries or the latest James Patterson book?

  6. I like SF for many of the same reasons y’all do. It is a nice escape from reality (other lit is much more closely tied to reality) and it imagines the world that might be. I feel like SF keeps us on our toes, anticipating possible ethical and socio-economic issues. While outlandish SF has its real world applications, SF is not all aliens and telepathy. It’s speculative and without speculation we’re stuck in a rut.

    But I read more non-scifi lit than sf (something which is slowly changing). It’s still important to deal in the here and now lest we get lost in the mind and future ideals. Reading is important (I don’t give a damn how many wagon wheels you can repair, or whatever argument to handiwork was recently made here); I think what really matters is that we’re engaged and that we’re trying. Whichever genre does that for you, great.

  7. SciFiChick: You read to escape reality by going into dark and dangerous worlds like those in Neuromancer or Minority Report? I wouldn’t want to escape to those worlds. I’d want to run from them. I honestly never understood the whole ‘escapist’ claim with Speculative Fiction.

    As for why I enjoy Science Fiction . . . you inspired me.

  8. Well, for one thing, I don’t watch Oprah so I have no idea what is good in the non-SF lit field.

    And second, why read about the problems of everyday people, when you live that stuff everyday? Why not read the problems about everyday people who have ray guns to help fend off the alien invasion?

  9. John – I read that stuff too (except for mysteries involving animals as main characters).

    I just prefer science fiction and fantasy, usually. Because it’s an escape from the normal world. Other genre fiction could (feasibly) happen, so it really isn’t an escape from reality for me.

    JBDrydenCo – Since it’s nothing like the real world? Yes. There are still fascinating aspects from those different worlds. Does it mean I want to be the main character? No.

  10. I don’t ONLY read sci-fi. I spend all sorts of time reading all sorts of stuff. Be it a non-fiction book on Lizards (that was last night), to books on psychology, to non-SF novels about Rome, to a good book by someone like Joe Hill (who is a god among men).

    But sci-fi makes me happy. I’m just wired for it. Give me Isaac Asimov, or Timothy Zahn, or Roger Zelazny and I’m lost to the world.

    Sadly, very little new sci-fi holds my attention. Not from lack of trying, but still.

  11. One reason I read science fiction is that I like the idea of moving in three dimensions. I like to imagine myself in a spaceship that can take me any direction. That freedom of movement attracts me to space opera, especially Al Reynolds. I like to read about adventure and danger and there is no more dangerous place than the hard vacuum. Especially if there are aliens with tentacles and teeth and blasters out there.

    I’ve always liked to take things apart, too, and science fiction lets me see things taken apart that we can’t take apart in the real world or in real-world mimetic literature. And not just physical things but social conventions. I like to see what happens when you change this aspect of human interaction. What happens to people when you change this? The possibilities seem endless to me, which is why I don’t lose much sleep over the end of science fiction.

    And finally I read it because it’s the showcase of new ideas. It’s like the concept cars that they make that they never expect to put into production, but hey, that little gadget would go great in our new minivan. Science fiction stories might describe a society that would never work, but they might get you thinking about how we can change our own in a small way that might make things better.

  12. I agree with others who posted. It’s an escape from reality. I constantly crave something new and different in my entertainment sources. Sci-Fi offers “new and different” in droves, where “action” or “drama” rarely offers something new.

    Lately though, I am noticing that the Sci-Fi books I am reading are “more of the same” where oddly enough the “movies” are holding my interest more. It has to be the visuals I guess.

    That brings me to another point. Whats happened to illustrations in sci-fi books lately? It used to be that either the author would butcher in his own drawings/art or at least hire someone for some illustrations in sci-fi books but that trend has seriously reduced in some of the latest sci-fi books I have read? What gives? Is this one of those “cost-saving” things that publishers are doing to increase profits? If so, it sucks. As an artist, I’m a visual kind of guy.

    To the authors: However bad an artist you are, anything is better than nothing. 😉

  13. Anonymous // July 18, 2007 at 2:53 pm //

    I don’t watch a lot of SF because the last great SF movie was (imho) the last Star Wars movie “Revenge of the Sith.” 2005. Star Wars is the Doctor Zhivago of this generation I loved the original Star Wars trilogy and the new one certainly lived up to the original standards. There isn’t much current SF on TV I like. Actually I don’t like any of it except maybe “Farscape” and I don’t always get to watch it. So much for SF on TV. After “Enterprise” SF on TV for me at least went downhill. Besides I can’t relate to the current crop of television “SF” these days. So I need to get my fix of SF somewhere else. The SF reruns are nice and I still watch those when I can. Thank God for DVD’s. So what’s a disenfranchised 50 something SF fan like me to do? Go back to the original source of science fiction: Books and short stories. Science fiction to me at least is all about imagination. TV and the movies as good as some of it was/is takes a lot of the imagination out of what makes SF in the first place. The printed word is what turns me on. Science fiction has the ability to not only provide that “what if?” factor but also it provides a sense of being carried away in the moment. It also makes you think. Science fiction takes me to places I’d like to go to and in some cases where I’d like not to go to. Science fiction books also have the best looking covers out of any genre. Science fiction separates the mundane world to other worlds. Pure escapism. Reading SF gives me hope and at the same time provides great entertainment. Science fiction is rich in it’s story telling and settings that other genres seem to lack. These reasons and many others are why I like to read Science fiction.

  14. I read science fiction to steal ideas and use them in my own books.

    Oh, and there is that whole sense of wonder thing. Hard SF specifically excites my awe and wonder because maybe, just maybe, if our current understanding of the universe is near to correct, it just might come true: though I am not immune to the siren song of less realistic, but more sublime dreams and daydreams as well.

    The human mind is so constructed that it cannot understand the understandable except in terms of the non-understandable. A man might examine the physical universe in detail, but the workings of evolution or the origins of the Big Bang are, to him, merely givens, that he cannot explain in terms of any higher principle: he believes in cause-and-effect, but cause-and-effect is not something that can be seen or touched. A man of religion might be able to define and discuss every rule and principle by which he lives his life, but he cannot tell you the secret name of God. It is a metaphysical principal, an assumption, the unknown by which the known is known.

    Likewise, our real life takes color and meaning from our imaginative life. Every bride at her wedding is pitched to a deeper emotion because it is a scene she has imagined so often. Her imaginings beforehand and during make it more than a meaningless ceremony or signing a piece of paper: it is joyful to the point of being solemn, a thing of bells and flowers and graceful trains and veils. If she is also reminded of Arthur and Guenevere, Jove and Juno, Adam and Eve, Romeo and Juliet, the marriage is given a luster and a gravity in her eyes it would not otherwise possess: she cannot say it is like a fairy tale if she has never read a fairy tale. (And some of these tales might also warn her what can go wrong in a marriage).

    The imaginative life takes deeper meaning, in turn, but toying with both the real things of our solid environment, and the elfin things that are no more solid than dreams or note of music. In the old days, stories were always introduced with a reference to the gods and genies and monsters that surrounded the heroes human world, and gave it the rules or the catastrophes mere human strength could not.

    In a technological culture, it is technology that acts as a genii or a monster. Science fiction is the mythology of a scientific peoples. Like a bride before her marriage, we speculate what kind of world we will be wedded to in the future, or what alien earths as real as ours, might be spinning in the void.

    By painting our imaginations in the colors of the future, the present day is seen in something of an historical perspective. Science fiction readers were not startled by the debate on cloning humans–to us, it was an old story. We were not shocked by the moonshot, nor astonished with atomic energy was developed. We knew it was coming.

    We know the precious things of our current day and age, and, yes, the ugly and unjust things too, will not last forever.

    By painting our imaginations in the colors of the future, life has a glamor to it, a magic spell, that those absorbed in mundane pursuits will never see. The intricacy and beauty of natural wonders, the accomplishments of the genius of men, the elfin cloud-towers gathered around a sunset, all these are given a greater significance when we ask: what if it were not so? What if the future wiped this out? What if I were a being who saw this thing through different eyes? What would a Martian make of my quaint and curious customs, my comical native taboos? Everything I see, I see with new eyes.

    We look at the stars, and we wonder if they are within reach.

    That is the reason why I read science fiction. You do not see the stars as they should be seen without them.

  15. I read it (and watch it) to empathize with the characters. The advance in technology has necessary caused (inevitably) a moral dilemma of one kind or another (even in space opera). I loke the good verses bad, and the shades of gray that sci-fi seems to engender more than any other genre. Some of the best and classic writers used science fiction to make moral and ethical points (Heinlein, Wells, Verne). I LOVE that. It makes one question one’s own motivations and decision-basis in day-to-day life. Given the circumstances, what would you do? Would it be the same as the protaganist(s)? Would it be different, and if so, how and why?

    In short, I love science fiction because it makes the reader think instead of just absorb the plot and have an emotional reaction. While there’s nothing wrong with provoking an emotional response, coupled with thought provocation, its unbeatable!

  16. Why read Science Fiction?

    John, at SFSignal poses a deceptively simple question: “Why do people read science fiction? For that matter, why do people watch sci-fi film and TV?” and then after answering it for himself, turns it on the reader. I can answer it in one word….

  17. I read it just to have something intelligent to post here — seeing how most of my postings are more inane than intelligent, you’d know just how much Sci Fi I actually read… (H)

  18. All of the above?

    Escape from reality. The “What If” factor. Seeing the product of a talented imagination.

    All of that. In general, I enjoy a good story. I think we all do. But for me, a “good story” usually involves some element of the fantastic, from demons to death-rays, to set it apart from mundane day-to-day reality. I like my escapes to take me just a little bit further than what the neighbors might be doing in the house down the street. Reality just isn’t entertaining to me.

    Like I tell my wife: If it doesn’t have androids or explosions, I’m not watching it.

  19. joshua corning // July 19, 2007 at 12:35 am //

    earth girl on alien girl sex.

    That and it allow more possibilities then general fiction.

  20. Why read science fiction? It uses the imagination to the fullest. It explores the limitless possibilities. Whether it’s wild speculation with total disregard for reality as we know it, or rational extrapolation from rock solid facts, science fiction shows us new things and new ways of looking at things. The sensawunder is a big part of that – the awe of seeing something new. But it’s more than that, the imagination involved in science fiction challenges one’s intelligence more profoundly than conventional fiction because it asks questions that conventional fiction, mired as it is in the normal, can’t even consider. Conventional fiction, after a while, becomes so much navel-gazing, while science fiction encourages us to look at the entire body, the room, the house, the city, continent and universe from different viewpoints. I read a lot of books, fiction and non-fiction, but science fiction was my first love and I am utterly loyal to her for the things she’s shown me and the ways she challenges me. It’s all about the imagination.

  21. The best SF is about the big issues and the issues also easily get incorporated in even the pure space opera stories. Contemporary or historical fiction usually can’t or won’t explore the big issues as well.

  22. I loooooooooooooove sci fi

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